Photo: Derbe Glass/Gulfstream Park
Knicks Go gets another chance on Saturday to show why trainer Brad Cox called him “a very rare talent.”
The 6-year-old races the Grade 1, $3 million for the last time Pegasus World Cup Invitational before he started his life as a stallion. He is aiming for the sixth Grade 1 score of his career, including a second straight in Gulfstream Park’s big event for older dirt routers.
Related: See Knicks Go’s Last Breeze For Pegasus
Knicks Go will go down in history as a two-time Breeders’ Cup hero with one of those victories in the richest event of the World Championship, the Classic. That win last November plus wins in the Pegasus and Saratoga’s Whitney Stakes (G1) make him a surefire bet to win 2021 Horse of the Year honors on February 10 when the Eclipse Awards are announced.
Would a second Pegasus triumph — this one against flashy newcomer Life Is Good — cement his place in the Hall of Fame?
“I’d think he’s probably worthy of being in the Hall of Fame now,” Cox said. “Of course I’m a little biased.”
Five American Thoroughbreds racing in 2010 or later have been inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame: American Pharoah, Rachel Alexandra, Royal Delta, Wise Dan, and Zenyatta.
A sixth Grade 1 win would tie Knicks Go with Royal Delta in that category and give him one more than Rachel Alexandra. He has already matched Royal Delta, Wise Dan and Zenyatta as a two-time Breeders’ Cup winner and the American Pharoah and Zenyatta as a classic winner.
“I think[a second Pegasus win]could definitely help,” Cox said, “but I’m hopeful he’ll be in there one day.”
The fact that the Hall of Fame is within reach for Knicks Go is a testament to the horse’s popularity over the past 16 months.
As a 2-year-old in 2018, Knicks Go upset Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) by 70-1 odds for trainer Ben Colebrook. The Maryland-bred son of Paynter then ran a game second to Game Winner as a 41-1 long shot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Knicks Go didn’t build on that 2 to 3 success. He was 0-for-8 in his sophomore season and missed the board in all six of his graded starts.
Cox took on training duties for the 2020 season. The trainer recalled watching Knicks Go’s Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile efforts and thought putting him in a flight would “just get him his feet under him.” let get.”
“He’s always had a lot of talent,” Cox said. “But he went through a 3-year period where he just wasn’t what he was at 2 years old or what he is now. For him to change form and get back to his winning ways is really amazing.”
Knicks Go won an Oaklawn Park stipend in February on his first start for the new barn, but an injury put him on the shelf until the fall.
At that point, Knicks could have covered Go as a class 1 winner. There were retirement talks, but owner Korea Racing Authority chose to put him back into training.
Knicks Go returned to the starting gates in a compensation race at Keeneland in October 2020. He promptly shot through 1 1/16 miles in a track record of 1:40.79, won by 10 1/4 lengths and made himself worthy of an invitation to a Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
The Dirt Mile five weeks later over the same Keeneland oval was another Knicks Go romp. He cleared near the eighth post and was sent off to a 3 1/2 length win by jockey Joel Rosario, while setting another track record of 1:33.85 for a mile.
“Listen, I’ve been telling people all along,…when this horse entered (an admission race), I never imagined he would run in the Breeders’ Cup, let alone win, five weeks later,” said Cox. . “He’s a horse that we just let him do his thing.”
The Dirt Mile was a catapult to bigger things in 2021. He made seven starts and won five last season, including all five of his two-corner races.
Knicks Go led on every call of his three biggest wins, the Pegasus, Whitney and Breeders’ Cup Classic, winning those races by margins of 2 3/4 lengths, 4 1/2 lengths and 2 3/4 lengths, respectively. He beat 11 other Grade 1 winners between that trio of events, including Essential Quality, Maxfield, Medina Spirit and Silver State.
“He’s evolved as he got older and got better,” Cox said. “I think that’s the one thing that has taught me a lot with horses in recent years.
“They are getting older. Sometimes they get faster. Sometimes they go the wrong way. Often they do that because of an injury or because they are not as good as we had hoped. But he is one that has evolved.”
Knicks Go entered its career final on Saturday, earning a 24:10-3-1 record with $8,673,135.
There is precedent for Knicks Go’s attempt to finish a standout career in the Pegasus. Gun Runner (2018) and City of Light (2019) both finished their time on the track with Pegasus scores months after winning Breeders’ Cup events to close out the previous year.
“For a horse like Knicks Go,” Cox said, “this is his last chance to show his genius before breeding.”